Martin Bisi’s indie cred is without question: his resume as a producer includes the Dresden Dolls, Sonic Youth, Live Skull and Black Fortress of Opium, to name just a few of the best. Yet his greatest achievements have been not behind the board but as a songwriter and bandleader. This download-only ep (it’s up at itunes and Contraphonic’s very easily negotiable site) impressively captures the freewheeling noir intensity, out-of-the-box imagination and counterintuitivity that come out so strongly at his live shows. The album features welcome contributions from a like-minded cast of characters, Bisi’s old 80s pal Bill Laswell as well as members of the Dresden Dolls, Balkan Beat Box, World Inferno and drummer Bob D’amico of the Fiery Furnaces.
The opening cut Drink Your Wine is basically punk Motown in the same vein as the Clash’s Hitsville UK with layers of the guy/girl vocals that have come to typify Bisi’s recent work along with a characteristically sardonic lyrical sensibility: “Drink your wine and don’t be silly,” Bisi admonishes: he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Building from a dusky noir intro, disembodied vocals rising over bass chords, Rise Up Cowboy explodes into a pounding art-rock anthem laden with dynamic shifts, layers of evil psychedelic guitar glimmering in the background, Bisi doing an impressive job as Peter Murphy-style frontman. The Damned only wish they could have sounded this apprehensive and ominous.
Mile High – Formaldehyde blends early 90s style Lower East Side noir blues with careening Firewater/Botanica style gypsy punk, propelled by the Dresden Doll’s Brian Viglione on drums. Its companion track Mile High – Apple of My Eye, with Laswell on bass, is a study in contrast, sultry and pulsing, something akin to New Order as done by early Ministry. It’s a vividly sisterly approximation of the previous cut’s menace, which is particularly appropriate in that it was inspired by Bisi’s daughter. With its clever layers of vocals, the final cut, the title track recalls the off-the-rails psychedelic eeriness of Bisi’s previous album Sirens of the Apocalyse (very favorably reviewed here). Essential listening for fans of dark imaginative rock: Bisi has several midwest and New England live dates coming up. You’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year – not bad for a little five-song ep.
This falls into the “ask an expert” category. Debra, who plays lead guitar and fronts the ferocious, psychedelic power trio Devi (whose excellent debut cd you can get at itunes and in stores) knows a thing or two about guitar – she’s one of the most uniquely individual, virtuosic stylists of this era. Here are the ten albums that really hook her up:
Key to the Highway, Freddy King – Best phrasing in the blues and so tuff and sexy it makes me want to dance on a table in hot pants for Mr. King. I snuck a lick from “Hideaway” into Devi’s jam version of “The Needle and the Damage Done.” (You can hear it at 3:43).
Another Perfect Day, Motorhead – I moved into a grungy cat-stank apartment on Avenue B one December and by Christmas Eve I couldn’t breathe. Found myself in Bellevue sucking adrenalin from a tank to open my lungs and was told I’d die if I tried to spend another night in my apartment. The only friend I knew who didn’t have a freaking cat was bassist Nick Marden. He had a bird, a rat, a pitbull and a snake. Slept under the Christmas tree in the living room and awoke to Nick handing me this album, saying “Merry Christmas.” Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson was kicked out of Motorhead after the tour for Another Perfect Day for wearing leg warmers and being generally fey, but I was hooked from the opening note on his soaring, searing, gorgeous playing. Thanks Nick.
That’s Entertainment, Gang of Four – Every once in awhile a guitarist comes along who is so original, he makes everyone else sound boring and dated and stupid. Andy Gill’s playing is utterly fresh, sharp, and compulsively danceable. I saw Gang of Four play and all I remember is flying into a state of spasmodic ecstasy from the Gill’s first slashing rip across the strings.
Filth Pig, Ministry – God, I love this record. I’ve been known to put it on repeat and listen to it for 8 hours in a row. The guitars sound like thunder, like earthquakes, like tsunamis. One of my fave moments ever was meeting Al Jourgensen and having his wife Angie ask him, “Guess which Ministry album Deb likes the best?” and me and Al both hollering at the same time “FILTH PIIIIIIIIG!!”
Dreamboat Annie, Heart — Nancy Wilson’s acoustic guitar playing is exquisitely feminine and also every bit as rock as the Celtic touches Jimmy Page was giving Zeppelin. Otherwordly and heartbreakingly beautiful. Need to cry your way through a breakup? This is the album.
Country Life, Roxy Music — Phil Manzanera’s romantic passionate solos slay me. When he lets that delay fly, it sounds like flocks of magical sparkling geese heading straight to heaven. Saw Roxy Music at Radio City Music Hall. Cried. Sighed. Swooned.
Texas Flood, Steve Ray Vaughan – Hands that could crush a Volkswagen. His best solos are on this album and they are bursts of fire. I learned his solo on “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and I use what I learned all the time. Snuck a few variations on the licks from that solo into mine on “C21H23NO3”.
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Sex Pistols – Guitars like a punch in the face. Steve Jones set the standard for the tightest, most powerful playing on the tightest, most powerful punk rock record ever. Taught the rest of us how to triple track separate parts for maximum wallop. It still makes me want to throw furniture and slamdance as hard as it did the first time I heard it.
Ritual de lo Habitual, Jane’s Addiction – Dave Navarro’s solo on “Three Days” is a rippling, cascading masterpiece. He took what Daniel Ash was doing in Bauhaus with digital delay and mixed it up with Jimmy Page and superscorchers like Nuno Bettencourt to create a new style that everyone’s been ripping off every since.
Santana, Santana – Jimmy Page said “tone is in the fingers” and Carlos Santana’s fingers make the guitar sound like a celestial viola. His gorgeous sense of melody is like nobody else’s either…he never gets stuck in a blues bag. Even just trying to play along with him for just a few minutes opens up entire new vistas.
Everything by Led Zeppelin, everything by Pink Floyd
Pretenders, The Pretenders
Sweet Forgiveness, Bonnie Raitt